Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chavez Ravine

On Saturday, my dad was here and we went to a Dodgers vs. Giants baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Being there, in Chavez Ravine got me thinking about things I'd heard about that area being a former neighborhood of Mexican Americans and how they were forced out of their homes before the stadium was constructed. So, for my blog post, I decided to do more research and see what I could find about the history of Chavez Ravine.

This area was the home to about 300 Mexican American families by the 1940's. It's not too far from downtown LA, but it was a more rural setting, with hills and park for the children to play in, as well as land for some small animals and gardens. The description of life reminds me of the colonias from Matt Garcia's A World of its Own, because they were primarily insular and self-sustaining. There was a real sense of community for the people that lived there, and a feeling of belonging, as many of the families owned their houses and property. But, in 1949, the city of Los Angeles told them they needed to leave their homes because the city wanted to build public housing. All the families were forced out and displaced with no real place to go. This reminded me of the situation those interned at the Japanese Internment camps from the Kuramitsu reading. They were forced out of their lives and told to report to camp, not knowing how long they would be there and what would be waiting for them when they got out. The feelings of displacement and the sense of loss of empowerment are recurring themes I've seen throughout our readings this year. A government or a big institution comes in and forcibly changes the lives of a group of people - it tends to be a minority group or immigrant population - and the people are left to start their lives over within the context of the institution that has demonstrated control over their lives. One of the tools people turn to is representation. We saw in Garcia's work how the Mexican Players used Padua Hills to help themselves economically, but also through representation. They followed Bess Gardner's direction, but also, through their supposed authenticity, demonstrated a type of person that was "Mexican" and a culture that could be learned from and appreciated by outsiders. The Native Americans used tools like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and early movies to demonstrate a controlled image of themselves; one that was powerful yet peaceful, as seen through the stage shows and then the backstage "real" living environments staged by Buffalo Bill, but executed by the Native Americans themselves. The National Museum of the American Indian, in Amanda Cobb's article, also shows how the Native Americans are engaging in representation and portrayal today, depicting themselves as complex individuals, with a collective narrative that is not as two dimensional as we have tried to make it. The art, done both in the Japanese internment camps, and after, helps to construct both individual histories and collective narratives, and influences how we view the experiences of the camps.

In 1949, the people of Chavez Ravine let their lives be documented by Don Normark, a photographer who captured the daily lives of the people of those neighborhoods. A few years later, all the homes were destroyed and the people were gone; politics of the city raged, and eventually, the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were to become the Los Angeles Dodgers, bought the land and build Dodger Stadium which opened in 1962. Now, fifty years later, there is an effort to educate people of the history of Chavez Ravine, headed by filmmaker Jordan Mechner. His film brings together former residents of Chavez Ravine and some of the city officials responsible for displacing these residents in an effort to tell the story. While I haven't seen the film, I found the trailer, and watching it brought up questions in my mind about representation and constructing a collective narrative. I wonder about how these people create the memories in their minds and their histories to find a place for their stories in today's world.

Going to Chavez Ravine today means going to watch baseball. There is no trace left of the 300 families that once lived there. The cheers of thousands of baseball fans have almost drowned their voices out. But not quite. Now, with Don Normark's photo journal and Jordan Mechner's film, hopefully these people will survive the displacement of history.

Site for the film and history:

Trailer for Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story:

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